Every time I hear anyone whine about Colin Kaepernick (a name I admit to not knowing before his stand) it makes me smile. I have never stood for the Pledge of Allegiance or any other flag observation until I joined the U.S. Military.
And after I rendered my service, I still don’t.
I don’t feel any shame. I don’t feel any particular way about it at all.
Because part of my understanding of patriotism and of this nation culture of freedom means I have the capacity, as is my constitutional right, to stand or not stand, to protest or not protest anything I like (or don’t).
It’s because I have a bit of history under my belt. Our neighborhood had a Conspiracy Brother who said I didn’t understand the National Anthem so I shouldn’t be saluting something I didn’t understand.
If you haven’t met a Conspiracy Brother, they usually have a gift for gab, talking real fast about a number of topics you may have no understanding of, and its okay, because Conspiracy Brother wants to inform you about the Illuminati, the Rothschild Bankers and the threat of aliens from the planet Nibiru. Oh and he happens to be a constitutional scholar from that nickel he spent in The Big House.
Conspiracy Brother is almost always a local gadfly. People hear what he is saying without actually listening. And every so often he is right. My mother and her friends hung out with Conspiracy Brother and being a militant at heart she taught me the national anthem was not for me. I did not have to stand, salute or promote the flag in any way. And if any teacher gave me grief, send them to her.
I never heard about it again.
My mother’s explanation was simple. Look it up. So I did.
The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.
The right to protest is a perceived human right arising out of a number of recognized human rights. While no human rights instrument or national constitution grants the absolute right to protest, such a right to protest may be a manifestation of the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, and the right to freedom of speech.
And lest we forget:
Freedom of speech in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and by many state constitutions and state and federal laws. The freedom of speech is not absolute; the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized several categories of speech that are excluded from the freedom, and it has recognized that governments may enact reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions on speech.
Criticism of the government and advocacy of unpopular ideas that people may find distasteful or against public policy are almost always permitted. (emphasis is mine) There are exceptions to these general protections, including the Miller test for obscenity, child pornography laws, speech that incites imminent lawless action, and regulation of commercial speech such as advertising. Within these limited areas, other limitations on free speech balance rights to free speech and other rights, such as rights for authors over their works (copyright), protection from imminent or potential violence against particular persons, and restrictions on the use of untruths to harm others (slander). Distinctions are often made between speech and other acts which may have symbolic significance.
Despite the exceptions, the legal protections of the First Amendment are some of the broadest of any industrialized nation, and remain a critical, and occasionally controversial, component of American jurisprudence.
When I was a kid, I had to go to the library and spend an entire day pouring over dusty books, annoying a librarian or two until my need for an answer could be teased from the pages of said tomes.
Thank goodness for search engines. Today it took me fifteen minutes to find what once took me four hours. I guess the time investment is why so few people grew up knowing any of these things.
There’s no reason for your continued ignorance in this modern age. Read a damn webpage, stop embarrassing yourselves. The entire, less savory version of the National Anthem looks like this:
Oh say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
At the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming.
And thy rocket’s red glare,
Thy bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through thee night,
That our flag was still there.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.
In case you didn’t get the message, there is a section in this anthem which talks about slaves being killed for turning against their former masters by working with the British Empire.
Here is the bottom line:
Colin Kaepernick is exercising his right to speak freely, protest freely, regarding a particular aspect of the social fabric of this nation, its treatment of minorities, the use of excessive or deadly force, and the unlawful imprisonment of minorities especially through the manipulation of the judicial services forcing them to serve longer and more severe sentences.
In addition, he is protesting this in the light of:
- 300 hundred years of the most destructive socially accepted slavery in the history of man.
- 100 years of disenfranchisement, peonage, economic redlining, Jim Crow, separate but equal, and eventually, the equalization of rights on paper, at least in 1964.
- With one sixth the population in the nation, but half the number of the total prisoners behind bars, with a disproportionate number of summary executions and police brutality cases directed toward our population as a result of the War on Drugs.
- The War on Drugs was a manufactured event confirmed to have existed to bring drugs into Black neighborhoods and designed to destabilize our families and incarcerate our males in the only form of legal slavery available.
As far as I am concerned, the national anthem was treated like fenced goods with the serial numbers and notations shaved off. It hid the fact it was built around the destruction of slaves in one of its missing stanzas.
This is indeed, a difficult thing to stand for when you know it is not your patriotism that is in question, but the nature of the nation for which you are pledging loyalty.
Said nation has shown no loyalty to you or yours in its entire history to this very day, to a group which has literally bled its life into the history of this tragically monstrous culture built upon murder, bigotry and bloodshed.
Yes, I would say it is a fine reason to sit and stay seated. A reminder of the freedom we are said to possess but cannot actually use, for fear of disturbing the status quo, for fear of understanding the true nature of our enslavement, we are chained no longer physically but just as imprisoned within the amber of the invisible racial prejudice all around us.
If you can challenge my ability to question the anthem of my nation, am I indeed as free as you? Is my freedom the same as yours?
If your voice matters more than mine, then the answer is: I think not.
To you brothers and sisters, no matter where you are:
If you take a knee, take a seat, raise a fist, speak to a nation during a public address as the president of the United States, or defy the conventions of the National Anthem, know you are exercising a right Whites prefer to retain for themselves, the right to protest things you don’t agree with. To be fair, they don’t agree with you exercising your autonomy.
When you do it, they will punish you, censure you, suspend you, disenfranchise you, scorn you, call you out of your names and describe you as everything, save a son of God.
Stand your ground. Turn your face upward. Look into the camera with the same boldness they once burned, lynched and tortured your ancestors. Look with the same conviction which said: This is the natural order of things. This is how it should be.
No one should stand until we can all stand. Equal. The way you profess for yourselves. With the same capacity, the same five/fifths you reserved for yourselves.
Look into that camera and tell the future: It will be this way until we say things are right. Just like these citizens once did. No remorse, no respect, no fear of a world where they are not masters of the Universe.
We have survived all that you have done to us. Still we rise.
We will be free of you. Of your beliefs, of your scorn, of your derision. Most importantly, we will be free of your belief we are subject to your whims.
Take everything and we will still reclaim it all. You have no power here. Don’t push this issue. You won’t like where it ends.
When you take a man’s freedom, when you tell him he cannot stand for his own beliefs, you create a cancer which will spread. A cancer which will continue to grow into a discontent undermining those lies no longer capable of concealing its existence. Such a cancer cannot be stopped. Will not be stopped.
If you’re not careful, it may lead to the birth of a new nation.
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. You can follow him on Twitter or support his writings on Patreon.